“There is a crying need for a central repository of professional non-politicized data and information.”

14 Sep 2010

We don’t know much about how much oil, coal and gas is out there. We also don’t know how much of that we might manage to tap or dig up and burn.

There are ways of trying to forecast fossil fuel production in the future, without knowing anything about the reserves in the ground, building on the work that Shell Oil geophysicist M. King Hubbert. But still, it would be nice to know more about the estimates of reserves that we might be able to use. It could there’s a lot—which would be good news for the economy, and bad news for the planet—or it could be that there’s little left—which would definitely be bad news for the economy, and might or might not be good news for the planet.

If we knew more about field-by-field oil production, that would also help us forecast production in the future. And if we knew more about recent oil discoveries, that would also help.

Much of the information out there is garbage. As I’ve written about here before, OPEC’s stated reserves are unrealistic, having suddenly jumped to much higher levels in the 1980s, and then staying there virtually unchanged ever since, despite huge production.

To give another example—among many—it’s hard to know what to make of China’s reported coal reserves. In the early 1990s, they told the World Energy Council (WEC) one figure, and then the next year gave another figure that was only one-sixth of the earlier amount. And then since then, they haven’t responded to the WEC’s requests for an update. So the WEC keeps reporting the figure they got back in 1992. If it was correct in 1992, then by now China would have mined one-fifth of what they had back then. Clearly, there must be some change in the reserves, but it doesn’t show up in the official figures.

All this is why Charles Hall, an ecologist and energy expert, says: “There is a crying need for a central repository of professional non-politicized data and information.”

That’s from Hall’s write-up, “What do we really know about global oil resources”, after visiting oil expert Jean Laherrère at his rural French home, and it’s well worth a read.

I’d like to get a hold of Laherrère’s database that he’s assembled over the years. But even if we had that, there’s still more that would be useful. Maybe we should draw up a Wikileaks wishlist, like Daniel Ellsberg—of Pentagon Papers fame—published recently in the Washington Post.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »